Dale Buss has written a good article for Chief Executive magazine about nurturing a leader's visionary skills. Buss argues that compelling visions for an organization don't simply come to someone like a bolt of lightning from the sky. Leaders can cultivate their ability to chart the right vision for the future. Mainly, he argues that leaders need to maintain close contact with customers, rather allowing others to tell them what customers want and need. They have to avoid becoming isolated at the top. Buss also argues, "Be your own customer. Put yourself in the role of the customer and walk through every touch point, to see what they see. Are there gaps in the relationship? Can some touch points be shortened or made easier?"
Buss notes that substantial new threats and opportunities often emerge at the periphery of an organization. Andy Grove of Intel once observed the very same phenomenon. I wrote about Grove's ideas in this regard in one of the early chapters of my book, Know What You Don't Know. Buss explains how to see those issues emerging at the periphery, rather than the core, of the organization:
Spot weak signals at the periphery. Attempt to gain early detection of developments that could potentially interrupt or disrupt your business so you can take them into account as early as possible. Introducing “randomness” into your life can be one way to do this. Iconic and visionary architect Buckminster Fuller, for instance, used to pick up a magazine at random from a kiosk when he traveled and force himself to read the entire publication during his trip so that he kept in touch with parts of the world he otherwise knew nothing about, the authors said.
I've heard the Buckminster Fuller practice many times, and it's always struck me as a very effective technique. It does not take much effort, but it can deliver strong dividends at the unlikeliest of moments. It also enhances your general knowledge - useful as you network and engage with a variety of external and internal constituencies to the organization.